Explaining the concepts behind the grand new Secretariat complex in Chennai, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi referred to the great inspiration Tamil Nadu can draw from the Uttaramerur inscription. It testifies to the historical fact that nearly 1,100 years ago, a village had an elaborate and highly refined electoral system and even a written constitution prescribing the mode of elections. The details of this system of elective village democracy are inscribed on the walls of the village assembly (grama sabha mandapa), a rectangular structure made of granite slabs.
“This inscription, dated around 920 A.D. in the reign of Parantaka Chola [907-955 A.D.],” explains Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, “is an outstanding document in the history of India. It is a veritable written constitution of the village assembly that functioned 1,000 years ago,” Dr. Nagaswamy is the author of a book, Uttaramerur, the Historic Village in Tamil Nadu, which has been published in both English and Tamil.” The inscription, he adds, “gives astonishing details about the constitution of wards, the qualification of candidates standing for elections, the disqualification norms, the mode of election, the constitution of committees with elected members, the functions of those committees, the power to remove the wrongdoer, etc…”
But that is not all. “On the walls of the mandapa,” he points out, “are inscribed a variety of secular transactions of the village, dealing with administrative, judicial, commercial, agricultural, transportation and irrigation regulations, as administered by the then village assembly, giving a vivid picture of the efficient administration of the village society in the bygone ages.”
The villagers even had the right to recall the elected representatives if they failed in their duty.
Uttaramerur, which has a 1,250-year history, is situated in Kancheepuram district, about 90 km from Chennai. The Pallava king Nandivarman II established it around 750 A.D. The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Sambuvarayars, the Vijayanagara Rayas, and the Nayaks successively ruled it. The village has three important temples, the Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple, the Subramanya temple, and the Kailasanatha temple.
The three temples have a large number of inscriptions, notably those from the reigns of Raja Raja Chola (985-1014 A.D.), his son Rajendra Chola, and the Vijayanagar emperor Krishnadeva Raya. Rajendra Chola as well as Krishnadeva Raya visited Uttaramerur.
Uttaramerur, built on the canons of the agama texts, has the village assembly mandapa at the centre. All the temples are oriented with reference to the mandapa.